A back-to-basics approach to stocks and broths delivers wholesome flavour to a range of applications
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Amongst our innovation chefs and food scientists, stocks and broths are an unsung hero of product development. “When done well, stocks and broths can really lift a dish, supporting the other ingredients to help bright flavours pop”, says Chris Horridge, Head of RD&A for Kerry. “The trick is to keep them simple”. By going back to the most traditional and time-honoured slow cooking methods, stocks and broths deliver truly wholesome and authentic taste and succulent mouthfeel in a sustainable way. In this article we cover new research that shows how stocks and broths add authentic flavour to a range of applications and why a traditional preparation is consumer-preferred.
Back to basics: stocks and broths 101
Essentially, stocks are water-soluble extracts made from a combination of bones, meat, vegetables and herbs—or just vegetables and herbs, if a stock is vegetarian. Stocks are a staple. People have been making such simple formulations for hundreds of years to extract and retain the flavour of the ingredients and to enhance other foods.
The terms “stock” and “broth” are often used interchangeably, but stock is made from bones, while broth is made mostly from meat or vegetables. While both are flavourful, broth tends to be thinner. It’s cooked for less time, and it doesn’t contain stock’s thick, viscous texture. When collagen-rich bones are simmered for hours, the heat coaxes out all kinds of flavour, along with collagen protein that is extracted from the bones during the simmering. This collagen content, along with minerals and other components found in bone and joints, is what drives the healthy halo consumers have associated with bone broths. The collagen is often in the form of gelatin, which is why stocks are usually solid when refrigerated, whereas broth keeps a liquid form. When collagen-rich bones are simmered for hours, the heat coaxes out all kinds of flavour, along with gelatine. That’s why stock is usually solid when refrigerated, whereas broth keeps a liquid form.
Authentic flavour for an array of applications
On their own, stocks, broths and other such products are regularly used by consumers, and there’s a growing market. A container of stock might be used as a base for soup while a mug of bone broth may be enjoyed on its own.
But because stock and broth products can be manufactured to be incredulity potent, they can also be used by manufacturers who want to enhance the flavour of food products. For example, natural stocks are often used at a rate of 6-10% in a recipe. Kerry’s condensed stocks and broths work at a rate of 2-3%, and we are currently developing a concentrated stock that you can use at 1-2%, which is equal to a flavour application rate. Such concentrates are authentic food ingredients that can be used similarly to an artificial or natural flavour.
Stocks can be used in a seasoning as a replacement for a chicken flavour, for example, and they can also be used in prepared meals to impart an authentic chicken or beef flavour instead of using a natural or artificial flavour. Stocks can also be leveraged in prepared meals to impart umami characteristics into a dish, including vegan and vegetarian options that are lacking in savouriness and craveability. For example, a concentrated mushroom stock can heighten umami, provide a meat-like taste or replace fish stock.
You can also customise vegetable and spice stocks to amplify savoury profiles. There are advancements in the field of vegetable collagens to give us vegan and vegetarian alternatives to bone broths. Innovations such as these enable brands to stay ahead of trend, with often minimal modifications at a production level.
Stocks and broths can also take on characteristics of regional cuisine, expanding beyond European- or French-style bases. “We're seeing miso being used a lot more as part of a stock or broth, as opposed to a finishing ingredient”, says Cian Leahy, Director of Culinary for Kerry. “Similarly, we’re seeing elevations of stocks and broths by applying different heat levels or more umami-forward palates to Asian broths. For instance, dashi, a lightly flavoured Japanese stock or broth that utilises dried kelp, might utilise dried bonito flakes and shiitake mushrooms to build flavour and umami into a broth that remains delicate in appearance and on the palette”.
The trend toward clean label stocks
In many kitchens, stock cubes—which are created via industrial methods including a high-flavouring and yeast content—were once a mainstay. But in recent times, consumers have guided brands and manufacturers in the direction of “for food, from food” ingredients rather than artificial or even natural-identical ingredients.
Stocks and broths created using traditional methods have an advantage amongst these consumers. By replicating the slow-cooked kitchen taste at scale in the factory, it’s possible to extract a natural, clean label product that elevates flavour and is rich in bioactive nutrients.
This kitchen-replicating approach has other benefits too, such as increased nutrition and sustainability. By using raw materials that would have otherwise been discarded—such as bones and vegetable peels—the traditional production of stocks and broths naturally utilises the by- and co-products of food manufacturing, leading to a less wasteful, more circular approach to production. We’ve even helped brands find ways to keep spent stock materials in the food chain, such as by partnering with an organic garden fertilizer company.